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Beta Alpha

Beta Alpha Chapter was founded at University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on March 20, 1890. The chapter closed on July 1, 1977.

Founding Date: Mar 20th, 1890

Closed Date: Jul 1st, 1977

Status: Inactive


District: Beta

The Early Years

Beta Alpha chapter was the first women’s organization at the University of Pennsylvania and was founded in 1890.

“In the winter of 1890 an idea came to Jessie Lippincott Colson and she came to Lois Macy Otis, Cornell, with a confidence. She, with Rose Ancona and Josephine Feger Ancona, Martha Bunting and Kathleen Rydr Carter, wanted to have a fraternity … Lois belonged to Psi Chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma at Cornell … it was all put through in March. No officer came, which seemed a little strange, but Lois initiated the girls …" Lois Macy Otis was honorably discharged from Psi Chapter Cornell to become a founder and charter member of Beta Alpha. (From The Birth of Beta Alpha by Lois Macy Otis).

At the Convention of 1890 it was voted “that all active chapters designated by the same Greek letters formerly borne by suspended chapters, be further distinguished by prefixing Beta.” In voting the establishment and the NAME of Beta Alpha six years after the death of Alpha an “apparent reluctance to use the name of the mother chapter a second time,” was overcome. An “imposition” was what Martha Bunting, first chapter President, called the quartering of a Fraternity officer in her home … Martha resigned!

Lois Macy Otis describes charter members in her essay “Birth of Beta Alpha:” Jessie “pale, slender, lovely,” Kathleen “deep science student,” Rose and Josephine “musical, gifted.”Lois, herself, has been described as “not lovable.” “Does a founder have to be lovable?” was asked in chapter notes.

Highlights 1890-1900

From 1890 - 1904 Beta Alpha was the only women’s organization at the University of Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia Alumnae Association was founded in 1900 to supply advisers, aid and amity to the chapter.

Dr. Mary Engle Pennington, “this country’s supreme authority on matters connected with the refrigeration of perishable foodstuffs,” (the New Yorker, “Iced Woman,” September 6, 1941), was Grand Treasurer from 1900 - 1902.

Fannie R.M. Hitchcock, pioneer scientist, was Penn’s first director of the Women’s Department (1897–1901).

Fannie also prompted the prize of a table at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, to be offered annually. In 1902 it became the first philanthropy accepted by the Fraternity as a program...and from it developed the Student Aid Fund.

The Beta Alpha flower was the Violet … to honor the Red and Blue of Penn and the Tri Deltas, installed in 1904, selected the red rose … Hurrah for the Rose and the Violet! … The first woman for whom doors of Houston Hall (student union) were opened in 1906 was Mary D. Griffith Canby.

Highlights of 1900-1920

“Two of our Fraternity pins which had been lost, one in Colorado, one in Atlantic City, were recently recovered in extremely interesting ways.” (The Key, December 1910) … References were not required at the time, but in 1915, the Philadelphia Alumnae Association minutes recorded, “We are informing the chapter that Rheva Ott is the sort of girl we want to see bid”

The membership of the chapter circa 1915 produced seven doctors, a dentist, a revered Grand President, a finance adviser extraordinaire, a beloved House Board Chairman, an affiliate with five degrees, an editor, administrators, educators, and Province President.

Louise Butts Neely devoted almost all of her volunteer time from 1919 until her death in 1968 to her Kappa interests, especially chapter finance. She loved—and possessed—her job. Receptions given monthly by Beta Alpha were, for many years, the only social events available to Penn’s female students.

A rest room was furnished by Beta Alpha for female students when it had not occurred to the university to arrange for one.

Highlights of the 1920s

The almost annual house hunting and the occupation of rooms and apartments ended 1921 with the acquisition of 3323 Walnut Street.

The house at 3323 Walnut Street was acquired “through the kindness of Mrs. Pope Yeatman, mother of Beta Alpha Georgina Yeatman. (Former city architect, North Carolina conservationist) … Mrs. Yeatman held the mortgage that she cancelled in 1928 … “Words are inadequate to express our appreciation,” wrote the 1930 chapter historian—so Georgina was made a life member of the Philadelphia Alumnae Association!

The Beta Alpha Blues newsletter was born in 1929. Its 25th anniversary was celebrated with a picnic in the Penn Shakespeare garden. TEA CLUB was a tradition in the 1920s with tea taken at the old round TABLE at 3323 Walnut Street, and questions from Ask Me Another, asked and answered.

Highlights of the 1930s

The chapter won the Efficiency Cup at the 1932 General Convention Words written about the chapter in 1932 by Helen Snyder (Andres) first Field Secretary: “Such a rollicking, enthusiastic and loveable chapter we have here in this grand old city.”

Highlights of the 1940s

Golden anniversary chairman, Jane Bennett (Southoron), issued invitations in the form of a summons, planned speakers for each decade, displayed memorabilia at the celebration held March 16, 1940.

House parties were once enjoyed in New Jersey resort towns (Wildwood, Ocean City, Avalon) … The House Board, previously part of the advisory board, became an entity May 25, 1944.

Josephine Caldwell (Barron, Harkins, Johnson), May Queen, Phi Beta Kappa, Mortar Board, chapter President, “most beautiful college girl in America,” “most beautiful bookwork in the country,” Miss Fashion Futures, 1941 … she cut the ribbon that opened the UP Bicentennial in 1940, and died in an auto accident in 1962 at age of 42.

Highlights of the 1950s

The Father’s Trophy “for outstanding participation in athletic events and programs, contribution to the campus community, and an above average academic standing” was won by Elizabeth Ann “Lizanne” Kelly (LeVine) in 1955.

The house at 3323 Walnut Street was lost in 1959 to redevelopment, but Penn by agreement, offered the mansion at 225 South 39th Street. It was occupied by Beta Alpha in September 1959. Carol Ann Trimble (Weisenfeld) was chapter President 1959 -- 1960, the first year in the new house. Carol was the only Penn woman to have held office of Editor-in-Chief Pennsylvania News; President, Women’s Student Government; chapter President.

Highlights of the 1960s

The 1960 fall rush provided the 11 women’s houses with 190 pledges. Beta Alpha won Penn’s 1968 Hexagon Award, given to the fraternity, which based on a point system, has the highest overall leadership, scholarship and participation in campus activities. Candice Bergen elected Miss University (Penn’s Homecoming Queen). The Fraternity’s Loyalty Award was given to Rheva Ott Shryock in 1968 “Why are we always being told we’re so terrible,” asked an active of the 1960s, “When we’re the best there is?” “If it doesn’t mean more (than an … invitation to mixers) then a membership is being wasted,” Carolyn Thayer [Ross], 1968 Blues). Hill Hall (suite named for Mary E. Pennington, double room named for Mary D. G. Canby, Hitchcock portrait in board room,

Highlights of the 1970s

Fall 1970, three (of five) houses took 15 pledges. The relinquishing of the chapter house in 1970 was triggered by the required installation of an expensive sprinkler system and by the diminished number of tenant members after Penn’s relaxation about apartment living … loss of members had to do with the “relevancy” of fraternities, steadily rising tuition costs, a decrease in interest in all campus memberships, the loss of the house, the trauma of the 1960s.

The crisis of 1970 was successfully countered by Rheva Shryock, who announced at the April 30, 1970, conclave of loyal actives and interested alumnae, “You still have a charter” after she had determined that the April 21 vote to return the charter was invalid. She saved the chapter. “If you were an incoming freshman of the 1970s, would you choose to become a member of a co-ed living arrangement … or would you join a fraternity?” ) Anne Whitman, Kappa Fellow, Dallas, Texas, Alumnae Award, 1973, anthropology) … From Wendy Wick, chapter President (May 1, 1970), an ultimatum: “We expect you to be an active member … if (you are) not … you must formally resign from our Fraternity.”

A Cellar, a room, rented space at St. Anthony Hall (Delta Psi) and (1974–1975) St. Elmo (Delta Phi) followed the 1970 decision … “I look back … with much greater feeling having been part of the great come-back … such a transition has proved the real strength of our organization … “ (Eleanor Peterkin, 1971).

A special award, Beta Province Meeting 1973, “to Beta Alpha for hanging on when it would have been much easier to give up.” … Natalie Huston, President, received award for the chapter. “A house for Beta Alpha has been acquired as of June 1975. The address is 3952 Pine Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Members are few … morale is high!”

During the 1975 open rush, Beta Alpha pledged four women. Beta Alpha closed in 1977 with 937 initiates. Due to the circumstances at the university relative to the Greek system and conditions within the chapter, the chapter voted to voluntarily surrender its charter.

The information for the 1975 History of Kappa Kappa Gamma 1870-1975 about Beta Alpha was written in the form of “The ABC’S of Beta Alpha Chapter” and was compiled by Ruth Malloy (July 24, 1910-November 8, 2002) who was a dedicated member of the chapter as well as a loyal alumna. This history has tried to honor and preserve the spirit of her ABC endeavor, which reflects the spirit of the chapter, while compiling her notes in chronological rather than alphabetical order.